Nigeria searching for right mix at World Cup

Nigeria has qualified for five of the last six World Cups. (Sunday Alamba/AP)

Only three African nations have reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup: Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010). Despite being one of the dominant forces in African soccer, Nigeria hasn’t been able to shatter the “final eight” glass ceiling, although it has come close—they nearly eliminated Italy in the second round in 1994. More than anything else, Nigeria wants to assert itself as the top power in the African game, and a quarterfinal appearance in Brazil would help in that regard.


Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United),
Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Efe Ambrose (Celtic FC), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod FC), Joseph Yobo (Norwich City), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars)
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ogenyi Onazi (SS Lazio), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Gabriel Reuben (Beveren), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City), Babatunde Michael (Volyn), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen)


Stephen Keshi hasn’t been afraid to make sweeping changes since being installed as coach in 2011, showing a number of veterans the door—including Obafemi Martins—and promoting home-based youngsters.

Possible formation

4-3-3: (GK) Enyeama – (D) Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona, Echiejile – (M) Onazi, Mikel Obi, Yobo – (F) Musa, Moses, Emenike

Group F schedule

June 16: vs. Iran in Curitiba
June 21: vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina in Cuiaba
June 25: vs. Argentina in Porto Alegre

How they qualified

Runaway group winners, the Super Eagles finished with an undefeated record in the second round of African qualification (three wins and three draws). It’s rather surprising they didn’t finish a perfect six for six considering their opponents had an average FIFA ranking of 123—Kenya 118th, Malawi 124th and Namibia 128th. Next in line was a playoff date with 95th ranked Ethiopia, which ended 4-1 on aggregate.

Team strengths

Defending was a position of focus in qualifying, as the Nigerians conceded only four goals in eight matches. Confidence is high after winning last year’s African Cup of Nations. The schedule has been kind to them, starting with games against Iran and Bosnia, so they could have a second-round berth sewn up by the time they meet Argentina.

Team weaknesses

Keshi has used over 60 players in the past 18 months, so team chemistry and team cohesion is an issue. Slow build-up play isn’t Nigeria’s forte, as too often they appear to be frenetic. There’s not much depth beyond the starting 11, either.

Players to watch

Emmanuel Emineke: Nigeria’s main supplier of goals, the Fenerbahce striker is a reliable and consistent player.
Victor Moses: Hard working midfielder who offers Nigeria a bit of pace and quality when taking on defenders.
John Obi Mikel: A dynamic two-way midfielder known for his physical style, and his ability to get forward in support of the attack.

Burning question?

Will Keshi’s youth movement pay off? He’s taken a big gamble by blooding so many young prospects. It’s hard to imagine that the team’s overall lack of experience won’t come back to haunt them in Brazil.

Prospects in Brazil

Yes, they’re the reigning African champions, but you shouldn’t expect much from Nigeria. This is a team that is very much in transition, and looks totally unconvincing ahead of the World Cup. Drawn together with Argentina and Bosnia, their chances of making it out of the group don’t look very good.

World Cup history

Nigeria seemed to be a country on the rise after reaching the second round in its first two World Cup appearances, playing Italy very close in 1994. But the Super Eagles, the reigning African champions, haven’t been able to break through to the quarterfinals, and suffered disappointing first-round exits in 2002 and 2010.

• 1930 to 1958—Did not enter
• 1962—Did not qualify
• 1966—Withdrew
• 1970 to 1990—Did not qualify
• 1994—Second round
• 1998—Second round
• 2002—First round
• 2006—Did not qualify
• 2010— First round

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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